It cannot be said enough that one of the more important reasons that democracy has failed to thrive (to put it mildly) in post-Soviet Russia has been the unwillingness to confront the realities of Soviet history.
The Russian city of Penza will celebrate 2016 as the “Year of Stalin”, to mark the 80th anniversary of the Soviet constitution promulgated by the dictator. The city opened a dedicated museum and cultural centre last week—on his 136th birthday—which will host events such as film screenings, debates, and “Stalin Readings”. Georgi Kamenev, a member of the Communist Party’s regional committee, said that the centre was necessary because “there are a lot of attacks on Stalin and on his period in Soviet history” and that it will help to “counter the falsehoods”. Among his many atrocities, Stalin’s artificial famine in 1930-33 killed 5m people, and the Great Terror after 1937 up to another 1m. Yet his approval ratings have increased across Russia: a poll in March by the Levada Centre found that 39% of those surveyed admired, respected or sympathised with the dictator.
Georgi Kamenev, eh? There’s a certain irony there.
As for the Stalin constitution, well, let’s just say it was a document that didn’t exactly deliver on all its promises. Back in the day, however, Pravda was more enthusiastic, using the unveiling of the new constitution as an opportunity to praise Stalin as the “genius of the new world, the wisest man of the epoch, [and] the great leader of communism,” so there we are.
And just imagine if a German city today— in the Rhineland, perhaps—had declared 2016 to be the year of Hitler….